A few days before Hurricane Irma hit South Florida, I received a query on Twitter from a graphic designer named Eric Bailey.
“Has anyone researched news sites capability to provide low-bandwidth communication of critical info during crisis situations?” he asked.
The question was timely — two days later, CNN announced that they created a text-only version of their site with no ads or videos.
. . . .
The same week, NPR began promoting its text-only site, text.npr.org on social media as a way for people with limited Internet connectivity during Hurricane Irma to receive updated information.
. . . .
These text-only sites — which used to be more popular in the early days of the Internet, when networks were slower and bandwidth was at a premium – are incredibly useful, and not just during natural disasters. They load much faster, don’t contain any pop-ups or ads or autoplay videos, and help people with low bandwidth or limited Internet access. They’re also beneficial for people with visual impairments who use screen readers to navigate the Internet.
. . . .
NPR’s text.npr.org is likely the oldest example of a working text-only news site that’s still in existence. It originally launched as thin.npr.org back in June 2005, in response to the September 11th attacks — when many news sites struggled to stay online amidst record traffic numbers — and also to help people who were navigating to npr.org back in 2005 on handheld mobile devices like Blackberries.
Earlier this month, a number of improvements were made to the site (which redirects to thin.npr.org) aimed specifically at low-bandwidth users.
“More recently, our full site [npr.org] has made major accessibility gains,” write Patrick Cooper, NPR’s director of web and engagement, and Sara Goo, the managing editor of digital news. “But as accessible or as fast as you can make your full site —and speed is critical for us — low-bandwidth situations are a different challenge. [Our] improvements focused on those users in particular.”
Text.npr.org’s improvements included “adding a caching layer to greatly improve speed and adding code to make the site display well on phones,” write Cooper and Goo. “We also increase[d] the number of stories on the [text.npr.org] homepage, made the homepage use the story ordering from our full site, updated the navigation links, removed an interim page in each story that showed only the first paragraph (something that was more valuable before we improved the page speed), and created an easier to remember “text.npr.org” redirect for the site.”
In recent months, Twitter, Facebook, and Google News have also published their own versions of stripped-down sites that use less bandwidth, mainly aimed at users in emerging markets who might not have access to faster network connections. Earlier this week, Twitter announced that it was now experimenting with an Android app designed to use less data for people with limited connectivity.
. . . .
Kramer: I’m curious. What kinds of things can be stripped from sites for low-bandwidth users and people with visual impairments?
Bowden: Those are two very distinct user groups but some of the approaches bleed over and can be applied together.
For low-bandwidth users: Cut the fluff. No pictures, no video, no ads or tracking. Text files are good enough here. Anything else is just fluff.
Link to the rest at Poynter
PG is happy to have high-speed internet access, but he likes the stripped-down sites because he can scan them for interesting items more quickly.